Alastair Sooke: the JMW Turner painting that launched modern art

Listen to the Story: 3 minutes

Audio-only: (best on mobile)


JMW Turner is probably Britain’s most famous painter. Constable might rival him for instant recognition, but it is Turner who each generation remakes in its image.

As Richard Dorment says in his review: "The phenomenon started in 1840 when John Ruskin, who was raised in the evangelical church, told readers of Modern Painters that Turner’s pictures should be read as moral allegories – to which Turner replied that the critic 'sees more in my pictures than I ever painted.’

More than a century later another critic and painter, Lawrence Gowing, staged an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in which he presented the great man essentially an abstract artist, thereby turning him into a precursor of Pollock and Rothko."